Applegate Red Revised
By Janet Eastman
Frank F. Ferreira, Jr. was a man devoted to his grapes and winemaking. So it was especially painful for family and friends to learn that he died of a heart attack last year during harvest, leaving grapes on the vine, no instructions on how to duplicate the success of his Applegate Red Winery or his wishes for the future of his 20-acre vineyard in the Applegate Valley.
A year after his death, at age 65, people remember Ferreira as a self-taught vintner who lived in a hidden paradise of his own creation with 30 miniature Sicilian donkeys and hundreds of exotic birds. He didn’t use e-mail, a cell phone or distributors. His wine club was by invitation only and he was obstinate in his philosophy of not interfering with the grapes, even when dry farming meant lower yields.
He was big and bearded, of Hawaiian and Portuguese descent, an uncompromising individualist seemingly always in denim overalls. Ferreira was a character in which myths are sometimes created. But, says a neighbor, “turning him into an icon of the Applegate wine industry seems disingenuous.”
Those who knew him best say he was an intensely private person. But when visitors found their way to his tasting room, a simple wood structure awash in bougainvillea red paint with a white “Aloha” greeting and a drawing of a donkey from his label, Ferreira would interrupt his one-man winemaking operation to greet them.
He would stand behind the counter, which was hoisted onto empty oak barrels, and pour his signature wines with pride. He charged as much as $32 for a bottle and up to 50 percent over market for the Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes he sold to other winemakers.
Yet he never hit the jackpot with this, the last of his entrepreneurial adventures. Two hand-painted signs in the tasting room addressed this through his famous sense of humor: “Wanted: Sugar Mama” and “I hope my ship comes in before my dock rots!”
“He had tremendous joy in seeing people walk away happy after buying a bottle of his wine,” said Vera Guerrera, one of his four children. “With a cigar in one hand and a book in the other, he waited every day for the first person to come by so he could enjoy a glass along with a new friend.”
Winemaker Herb Quady earned some of his highest awards for the Quady North Syrah he made from Ferreira’s fruit.
“Frank produced extremely good, very intense grapes,” he said. “I would like to think that the quality of the grapes was from the nature of the site and quality of the vineyard. But we can’t replicate the part that can be attributed to Frank because we don’t know how he did it.”
Quady, who is also the director of winemaking for Troon Vineyard, says Ferreria’s organic approach was to pick the best grapes at peak ripeness and balance, then add as little as possible. He wanted his wine unfined and unfiltered.
“He was a big guy with a big laugh who made very, very big red wines,” Quady said.
Bryan Wilson of Foris Vineyards received a call from the family after Ferreria’s sudden death, hoping he would buy some of the ripening fruit. He said by the time his crew arrived, the Syrah had reached 29 brix. He’s made Port with it.
Wilson believes there’s room in the wine industry for iconoclasts with larger-than-life personalities. “Frank did it his way, and that’s refreshing.”
Ferreria’s daughter, who lives in South Windsor, Conn., says her father didn’t talk about his work to the family.
“I know nothing about it,” said Guerrera, who visited the vineyard once in June. She and her three siblings are trying to sell the 75-acre property he bought in 1995 and to find homes for his pets. “We don’t give them away to anyone,” she said.
In mid-November, Ferreira’s property remained unsold, listed at $1,999,900 with Sheri Wytcherley of Oregon Ranch & Home Real Estate.
Soon, the family hopes to bottle the 2007 vintage. “That’s way overdue,” Guerrera said of the 45 barrels aging away.
It is the most wine Ferreira ever made, says Steve Rouse, a close friend and home winemaker who is caring for the wine. Ferreira’s son, Paul, was managing the property for a while, but now the family is considering a proposal for someone else to maintain the vineyard. Or better yet, buy it.
Chris Martin, owner of Troon, which is two miles down Kubli Road from Applegate Red Winery, said, “There has never been any question that Frank’s Cabernet Franc and Syrah have consistently been among the best lots in our winery. He clearly picked the right site when he planted those varietals. It is my belief that whoever acquires the property will have a great opportunity to make some superior wines and take that place to great heights.”